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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 105: The answer is 7.4, but what is the question? November 2016

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The average level of personal happiness in the UK is 7.4 according to the Government’s first survey of national well-being. Happiness levels dip when we reach our twenties and do not recover for the next 40 years. Overall, women have a greater satisfaction than men. The three happiest places are Orkney and Shetland, Aberdeenshire and Rutland. The three least happy places are Blackburn, Lancs, the West Midlands and Thurrock.

Could it be a coincidence that the 40 least happy years are from around 20 to 60, the very times when we are working, taking on financial commitments and children (probably the biggest financial commitment), and have our dreams turn into reality? Until our 20s, we have the carefree days of childhood and the excitement of teenage. In our 60s we know our hopes will mostly have not been realised and we have settled for our lot. No work, no commuting, fighting traffic, no bosses, less stress, no 9-5 or in many cases, longer, no greasy pole of advancement, no kids (except those whom you cannot get rid of - the so called boomerang generation), no money worries to speak of and the freedom to pretty much do as you like. Who wouldn’t be happier? Of course, we are designed to last for three score years and ten (70) so bits will start to fall off as we move through obsolescence to obsolete but on average, most people will have a decade or so before they are totally decayed.

It’s interesting to speculate on the similarities between the three happiest places and the three unhappiest. What might each set have in common? The happiest are more rural and less densely populated. The most unhappy are downmarket and have high levels of ethnic minorities. Maybe the ethnic minorities are unhappy because they are minorities or perhaps they are fed up with the weather. Who could blame them?

I read that the pollsters got it wrong when predicting the outcomes of the Referendum and the presidential election in the United States. Well, actually, they didn’t simply because polls do not predict. They measure opinion at a point in time and they measure what people tell them. Of course, they can get their samples wrong, but rarely very wrong. So, what happened?

In the US Election, Hillary Clinton actually beat Donald Trump in the popular vote but because the US has an electoral college system, Trump triumphed. This is similar to the UK first-past-the-post system. Mathematically, it is possible that a party could come second in every constituency and gain no seats but have more votes nationally than any other party. This is the point made by those favouring proportional representation.

A poll is a snapshot. If you take a photograph one day of a country scene with green grass and brown leaves, it doesn’t mean that the next day will be the same. It could snow! In the US, I suspect that a few people were not comfortable saying that they would vote for Trump and so lied to pollsters saying they voted or would vote for Clinton. Some may change their minds. It only takes two in a hundred to tell porkies and Clinton loses 2% and Trump gains 2% - a 4% point difference. If the difference between the candidates was 60/40, then 4% won’t change the outcome but in a close race, it will.

Turnout was also a crucial factor. It seems that many more of the Trump supporters hated Hillary Clinton more than the other way round. Again, in a close race, it doesn’t take many to stay at home to make a difference.

It’s also interesting to note that Hillary Clinton is a lawyer, Bill Clinton is a lawyer, Barack Obama is a lawyer, Tony Blair is a lawyer, Jack Straw is a lawyer. I could go on but you get the picture. Perhaps we are all fed up with being ruled by lawyers who regularly feature at the bottom of popularity contests.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if we voted against candidates instead of for them. Would the least hated person be the same as if we voted for candidates

Check in again at my desk soon!
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